Ring That PR Bell: Tunnel Hill 50M Race Report

Where to begin on such a fabulous weekend?  We’ll just start from the top and y’all will forgive me if I ramble a little bit?

MFH (My Favorite Husband) and I left for Vienna, Illinois on Thursday morning.  Tunnel Hill was on Saturday morning but I’ve discovered that it’s best to have a day to rest up after traveling to get rested up and hit packet pick up before a race, so that meant a Thursday morning drive.

After dropping off Chester and Castro at the kennel, we loaded up the car and started driving.  It really wasn’t a super long drive, only about 7-ish hours or so.  I had made hotel reservations for us in Marion, Illinois and we arrived right around dinner time.  We unloaded the car and found a place to eat, then crashed for the night.

We had already decided that we would sleep as long as possible Friday morning because Saturday was going to be a big day.  MFH, I think(?) was more nervous about the race at this point that I was.  He was up at early o’clock and I slept like a baby.  Funny how that works!

I had my avocado for breakfast (yummy) and MFH hit up the hotel breakfast buffet. 

We grabbed wings and beer for lunch (my pre-ultra ritual meal) then headed over to packet pickup.

I was super excited about packet pickup because I was finally going to get to meet a FB running friend from the page, Running Over 60.  *Awesome group of people over there, I might add*  Amazing runners and this woman is totally BadA$$!!!  Huge treat to finally get to meet up with her IRL!

We grabbed our bibs and swag then headed back to the hotel, grabbing Jimmy John’s on the way.  MFH and I ate the JJ’s, watched a little TV, laid out my flat Melinda stuff and then hit the sack.

It was an early o’clock wake up call.  We got dressed, mixed my Tailwind Nutrition for the day, made sure my bags were packed for MFH to help me as I came through the one and only time he would see me during the race and then went to find some breakfast.  We ended up at a Huddle House who really could use a tutorial on how to make waffles.  Less than amazing waffles BUT I was well fueled and ready to run!!!

It was a balmy 23 degrees so you know I was bundled up to my eyeballs.  I’m slowly adjusting to freezing to death but still have a long way to go.

This runner parked herself in the car, with the heater blasting until 5 minutes before gun time.  Finally, though, I had to head over to the starting line and then, Boom!  We were running!!!

Now, I make myself walk the first 2 minutes of any ultra.  I’ve learned the hard way that I’ll jackrabbit out of the start if I run from the get-go.  Walking keeps me from frying my legs in the first 5 miles of the race.  MFH caught a pic of me walking there at the beginning.

 Soon, I settled into the pace I’d set for myself.  See, I’ve had a secret goal for the race since I registered.  I wanted to PR my 50 Mile race time.  I was very disappointed in last year’s 50M race with a dismal 15 hour finish.  Granted the weather was horrible and the trails were in terrible condition but still—I knew I could do much better!

This entire year, I’ve been zeroed in on this race, training for that PR.

MFH and I did the math while traveling, figuring out what pace I needed to average for the finish time I had in mind.  I knew it was doable!  All I needed to do was run smart and fuel right.  I needed to run MY race and not compare myself to the other runners.  They were running their race and I needed to run mine.

Let’s talk about fueling right for just a second?  When I was packing, I messed up.  I had intended to fuel with Tailwind Nutrition Mandarin Orange for the first half of the race (non-caffeinated) and then switch to their Colorado Cola (caffeinated) for the last half or the race.  Guess who left the Mandarin Orange on the kitchen counter?  That would be me.  See, Tailwind suggests you do not fuel longer than 6 hours with their caffeinated flavors due to the half life of the caffeine.  Well, this kid ended up fueling double that with the caffeinated Colorado Cola.  Oops!

I fueled this race 100% with my Tailwind Nutrition *except* for a shot of Jack at the very last aid station.  Yummy and warming!

The course itself is stunningly beautiful!  Here’s a few pics of the trails:

Sooo pretty!!!

I have to say running through that tunnel is a blast but boy do you earn the privilege of running through that thing.

The course is pretty flat.  There’s a little bit of climb at the beginning of the first loop but nothing horrible.  As a matter of fact, I ran my 3rd fastest 50k time at this race so it’s very runner friendly.  Then you hit mile 32 and IT NEVER ENDS!

I swear I’m still running mile 32!  I would look at my Coros and think, I’m STILL on mile 32!?!  Somebody just shoot me now!

There’s a pretty steady climb for a bit at mile 32 and on and finally you reach the top and it’s down, down, down and you’re like, YAY!!!  This is fun again! You run through the tunnel still going downhill looking for the turn around (which I swear they moved back a few miles while I was looking for it) then you turn around for the last little bit of the race.

Remember the fun downhill?  Yea, now it’s an uphill again and it’s not as much fun going back up.  LOL!!! But you keep moving and eventually you get to the top and it’s downhill the rest of the race…for real!

I met the nicest  runner at the beginning of the race.  This was her first ultra ever.  She said she usually runs Half Marathons.  I can’t remember if she said if she’d ever run a full?  Anyway, big jump from HM’s to a 50M!  We ran the first 13-ish miles together and then she fell back a little bit and I’m afraid I lost track of her.  

I met MFH at the middle of the race.  He swapped out the bladder in my hydration vest while I visited the porta potty and then I was off again.  We had a little trouble finding each other so that mile (27) ended up being 23 minutes.  I was all, Oh Nooo!!!  There went my PR!  I was a bit of a sad panda.

It wasn’t until after I’d run through the tunnel the second time (it was dark by this time) that I realized I still had a shot at a PR!  It was time to turn on the gas!!!

The last 3 miles of the race were negative splits.  I have no idea how that happened!  It’s like my feet all of a sudden grew wings and my legs weren’t heavy anymore.  It was the most amazing and exciting thing that had ever happened to me while racing!!!

I crossed the finish line in 12:39:42.  My old PR set back in 2016 was 12:46:56.

The buckle is already in the mail on its way to Aiden’s house.

Thanks for all your support and cheers.  Y’all know this is for Aiden!

#IRun4Aiden